With her captivating smile and her bulldog determination, Janice Skiba never gave up in her battle inside and outside the Department of Veterans Affairs to secure benefits for former prisoners of war.
Her decades of work as an advocate for ex-POWs and a VA clinical social worker ended peacefully when she died in her sleep March 21. She was 71.
She was remembered at a memorial service Monday by family and friends as a devoted wife and mother and tireless champion of securing 100 percent disability claims after uphill battles in assisting veterans who were caught in the VA’s red tape.
“She wrote the book on what we do with returned prisoners of war. Her motivation was that she felt this group was getting too little compensation for the sacrifices they had made,” said Joe North, a Vietnam War Marine who escaped his captors.
In his following years of torment that led to his bout with alcoholism, North credits Skiba with turning his life around.
“Everybody loved Jan,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “She saved my life.”
Her husband of 47 years, Frank Skiba, said his wife “would work like a bulldog” to make sure her veterans would receive benefits she felt they more than deserved.
“She would have done her job for nothing,” he said. “She got to appreciate the living ones before they died. She had POWs who were on the Bataan death march,” he said, referring to the brutal, World War II, forced transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of tens of thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war that killed a large percentage of them.
Her youngest daughter, Marcy “Mouse” Skiba, said, “The veterans were her life. She had the heart of a lion but a lioness’ touch.”
Janice Kitzman Skiba was born Oct. 26, 1941, in Racine, Wis. Her parents, Harvey and Edrie Kitzman, were prominent in Democratic politics.
During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s, she worked in Washington, D.C., for President Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, in addition to several congressmen, including Louis Stokes, of Cleveland.
In 1978, she moved to Las Vegas with her husband and started working for the VA as a secretary. She spent her last 20 years working as a VA social worker and was awarded the prestigious Hands and Hearts award for her exceptional caring of veterans.
She founded and headed the ex-POW clinic.
Korean War veteran Gene Ramos, commander of Chapter 711 of the American Ex-POWs, said she persisted in supporting his benefits claims.
“We had to glue and piece together to make the best out of my benefits filing,” said Ramos, an Army private machine gunner who spent 28 months as a prisoner of war before he repatriated in August 1953.
Besides her husband, Frank, and daughter Marcy, she is survived by daughter, Nevele, and son, Bret, all of Las Vegas; her brother, Dr. Robert Kitzman, of Rhinelander, Wis.; and sister, Carol Berkus, of Israel.
The family prefers donations be sent to the Janice Skiba memorial account for The Wounded Warrior Project, Account 9058801, at the America First Credit Union.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.